There’s an old saying in football that if you have two quarterbacks, you have none. The implication being that any sort of division of time, energy and resources makes neither quarterback worthy of being a starter.
Iowa football has rarely found itself in that situation, with a few obvious examples. But for Hawkeye fans, that’s precisely the situation we find ourselves when it comes to rivals. Most big time universities have one or possibly two rivals. Ohio State has Michigan. Michigan has Ohio State and Michigan State. Michigan State has Michigan. And on and on.
Iowa is different. Depending on where you live or where you grew up, the team you consider to be Iowa’s biggest rival varies wildly. Grow up in western Iowa? You probably rank Nebraska at the top. Living in the middle of the state? The Cyclone fans can get annoying, right? Move to the Twin Cities after graduation? All that boat rowing nonsense is enough to drive a person mad. You’re from the quad cities? Thank goodness Illinois hasn’t been good at anything in a while or the fanbase would be insufferable. And who doesn’t hate the Badgers?
Iowa, with its six border states, has four conference opponents in neighboring territory. Throw in Iowa State and we have five reasonably worthy “rivals” at any given time. How is a fan to channel their hatred?
When you have five rivals, you have none.
The result of the geographic split is a Hawkeye fanbase pretty well split. We’re unified in our love for Iowa, but it’s impossible to get any sort of consensus on who our biggest rival truly is. As much as it might feel like an in-state rival should be at the top of the list, Iowa State is in an entirely different conference. Wins and losses against the Cyclones have virtually no bearing on Iowa’s season success. Add to that the fact the Hawkeyes haven’t lost to Iowa State in half a decade and it’s pretty tough to drum up much hatred. Unless it’s against their band, I suppose.
Similar things could be said of Nebraska and Minnesota. Both have rich histories, but one’s was long enough ago to make it laughable and the other is Minnesota. Sure, they have the history and they’ll be sure to remind you of it in a very normal, not at all creepy, living in the past, Friday Night Lights sort of way, but neither has beaten Iowa in five years.
The problem there is the meaning of the game changes for the team that’s racked up five straight. In this case, it’s Iowa and it’s hard to imaging the Hawkeyes being as worked up about winning against a team not a single player in the program has have lost to. From the other side of the field, sure, those guys no doubt want to beat Iowa badly and I’d wager their coaches have some disdain for the Iowa staff. I mean, the folks in Ames have the same losing streak rolling and they’ve got a damn countdown clock to the game.
But at the end of the day, when you continue to win, you lose that bad taste in your mouth. It’s tough to feel the hatred. These are college kids, not Michael Jordan notoriously searching for any little thing to feed the fire. They simply move on and at most, feel some sort of pressure to keep the streak rolling and not have the embarrassment of being the ones to lose to a Minnesota or Nebraska. Or Iowa State.
Don’t even bother with Illinois.
The only one where the shoe is on the other foot is with Wisconsin. The Badgers have rattled off four straight against Iowa and if it hadn’t been for that
lucky gutsy win in 2015, it would be a decade of dominance for Wisconsin.
As Iowa fans, that’s killer. Wisconsin was a doormat for a good portion of the fanbase’s formative years. Hayden Fry has no qualms about stepping on Badger throats and spitting in their eye. Now, Wisconsin has built a juggernaut in the mode of Iowa. A pair of former Hawkeyes, Barry Alvarez and Brett Beilema, went the Hawkeye way of building around what the state has plenty of in state: large human beings. From there, they’ve utilized the better resources of their state to lure in a few more skill players that are higher level and sold that goddamn beautiful campus and city to lure just enough high end talent from out of state to be on another level from the Hawkeyes.
Like Iowa, they are built on defense, ball control and a strong running game. But with better, and bigger, horses, they’ve taken it to a level Iowa fans can only hope to achieve. As a result, you’d be hard pressed to find a Badger fan who would consider Iowa a true rival. Just as it’s tough to consider Minnesota or Nebraska or Iowa State or Lolinois a rival when they haven’t beaten the Hawkeyes since this year’s crop of freshmen were entering high school, it’s difficult for Wisconsin fans to fee much more than fear of embarrassment for finally losing to Iowa.
It takes two to tango and you need both sides to feel like there’s a rivalry. And thus, Iowa finds itself in a weird word where we have no true rivals. We have plenty of candidates, but nobody has the mutual disdain you look for in a good rivalry. Various fanbases are annoying, but in the case of Minnesota and their little chant of “Who hates Iowa” or Nebraska and their talk of ““at least we have titles”, the annoyance is just that. And sometimes it’s downright cute. As for Wisconsin, I’m sure they feel the same about Iowa.
It’s time for that to change.
Iowa fans from across the state and the world should set be coming together to recognize Wisconsin as the rival this team needs. Whether you’re in Council Bluffs listening to absurd predictions of Frost warnings (again) or in Des Moines reading another fluff piece in your local paper about how Matt Campbell is the greatest coach in the history of the game or north of the boarder putting up with all the hype of a #ELITE program that WAS THE BEST IN THE HISTORY OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL LAST YEAR, it’s time to put that all in the past.
Wisconsin is the rival this program needs. They are Iowa on steroids. They know who they are and they embrace it. They’re big uglies. They drink beer. They drink LOTS of beer. They eat cheese. They win football games.
The road to the Big Ten title goes through Madison and over the last decade, Iowa has made it through unscathed just once. We should be focusing our hatred toward those lovable lugs. They have what we want and it’s time the Hawkeyes took it back.